February 25, 1997. That was the day when Doug Gilmour was sent to New Jersey. The day things began to change in Toronto—and not for the good.
Sure, the Leafs went on to reach the conference finals a couple of times after Dougie left town. But they were never as close as 1993.
Now what's old is new again in Toronto, with Cliff Fletcher back behind the reigns for what appears to be at least until the end of the upcoming season. One has to ask, however—are the Leafs headed back in the right direction or just spinning their tires?
Suddenly no player is safe, with Darcy Tucker, Kyle Wellwood and Andrew Raycroft gone,4 and Mats Sundin and Bryan McCabe seeming to be on the outs. These players have been replaced with some fresh faces, but they have come at a price.
Tucker had an off year, and had his contract bought out. He was replaced with Jamal Mayers. Why? Mayers had 27 points last season to Tucker's 34. Now the Leafs are on the hook for the remainder of Tucker's contract, and have lost a lot of the grit the team will need this year.
The recent free agent signings have raised some eyebrows as well. The Leafs jumped into the free agent market signing Niklas Hagman to a four-year, $12 million contract, Jeff Finger to a four-year deal worth $3.5 million a season, and Curtis Joseph to a one-year, $700,000 contract.
While the Joseph signing looks like a good move, as he will provide a solid backup to Vesa Toskala, the Hagman and Finger deals will take longer to assess. The Leafs will be paying $6.5 million per season for two players who combined for 60 points (Hagman 41 pts, Finger 19 pts) last season.
Have they spent their time and money in the right places? Will the Leafs ever return to the recent glory days of Gilmour, Clark, Andreychuk, and Potvin? When will Lord Stanley's cup return to Toronto?
Only time will tell...